Coronavirus Vaccines

AstraZeneca offers olive branch to EU after delay in supplies

A healthcare professional drawing a dose of the Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine at a vaccination centre in Brighton, southern England.
A healthcare professional drawing a dose of the Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine at a vaccination centre in Brighton, southern England.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

BRUSSELS • AstraZeneca has offered to bring forward some deliveries of its Covid-19 vaccine to the European Union, while the bloc has asked the British drugmaker if it can divert doses from the United Kingdom to make up for a supply shortfall, European officials said.

The Anglo-Swedish company unexpectedly announced last Friday it would cut supplies to the EU of its vaccine candidate in the first quarter of this year, a move that a senior EU official said meant a 60 per cent reduction to 31 million doses for the bloc.

AstraZeneca has said the revised timetable was caused by production issues in Europe. One senior EU official said last week that the problem was at a vaccine factory in Belgium run by AstraZeneca's partner Novasep.

That complicated the EU's vaccination plans, after Pfizer had also announced a temporary slowdown in deliveries of its vaccine, and triggered an outcry in Brussels and EU capitals.

Companies producing Covid-19 vaccines "must deliver", EU chief Ursula von der Leyen said yesterday. "Europe invested billions to help develop the world's first Covid-19 vaccines," she said in a live video address to an online-only version of the annual World Economic Forum usually held in Davos, Switzerland.

The European Commission is demanding answers from AstraZeneca and Pfizer about the delays.

In a sign of concern that pharmaceutical groups might be selling the earmarked doses to higher bidders outside the bloc, the EU is making a move to require the companies to notify the authorities of any exports to outside the European Union.

Britain's vaccine minister Nadhim Zahawi yesterday warned the EU against engaging in "vaccine nationalism".

He said the UK, which left the bloc's single market and customs union less than a month ago, is confident of hitting a mid-February target to inoculate its most vulnerable citizens despite the row.

Two European officials said yesterday that AstraZeneca, during two extraordinary meetings on Monday, had offered the EU to bring forward to Feb 7 the start of deliveries, from an initial plan to begin on Feb 15.

One of the sources, briefed on talks, said that AstraZeneca had also revised upward its supply goals for next month compared with the cuts announced last week, but the company offered no clarity on supplies for March. This appeared to be an overture by AstraZeneca to try and keep the peace with the EU as the row over its sudden cut to deliveries escalates, damaging trust between Brussels and the drugmaker.

German Health Minister Jens Spahn yesterday joined the EU calls for export controls on coronavirus vaccines. Delays were understandable due to the complexity of the manufacturing process, he told the ZDF broadcaster, but they must "affect everyone fairly and equally".

Separately, the World Health Organisation's vaccine advisory panel has tentatively scheduled a review of the AstraZeneca vaccine for Feb 8, an expert said yesterday.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 27, 2021, with the headline 'AstraZeneca offers olive branch to EU after delay in supplies'. Subscribe